Why I Love DNA

DNA – the Messenger of Life

Dr. Joy Halverson became fascinated with DNA as an undergraduate student at the University of California at Davis.

“There is something magical about DNA – it sits at the very core of not only who we humans are, but of all living things on earth. Not only does it make each individual unique but, because we inherit it, it relates us to our parents, our ancestors, and our ethnic origins.

DNA is the messenger of life, our biological soul.

There is an elegant precision about DNA structure. When you look at that glob of stuff floating in a test tube, you can’t believe how incredibly orderly it is and how reliably its secrets can be uncovered. So to me, DNA holds the secrets and provides answers about who we are and where we came from. Maybe not all the way back to the beginning of the universe, but pretty far.

Scientists call DNA a “macromolecule” because it is composed of many small units, called bases, that are linked together to form a much larger structure. Nobel prize winners James Watson and Francis Crick, with the help of an unacknowledged woman scientist, Rosalind Franklin, figured out that DNA formed the Double Helix, a helically spiraling ladder with each rung of the ladder formed by a chemical connection between complementary bases.

DNA is such a big molecule that when you purify it you can actually see it floating in the test tube, looking like a balled-up spider web floating in liquid. Think of it like a package of spaghetti – if the noodles were chopped into quarter inch pieces and thrown into boiling water then when you pick them up with a spoon they fall away from each other. But if you leave the noodles intact (like long DNA fibers) and pick them up they all wind around each other and stick together so you pick up the whole mass of noodles as one glop.

That glop of DNA was one of the magical moments of this new science.

As I purified hundreds of samples from birds, it was my favorite moment in the procedure.  The DNA had been released into liquid from the cells in the blood and cleaned by removing the blood proteins. So the tube held a clear liquid that was a little viscous. Alcohol is added and at first you can see two clear separate liquid layers.

Then you cap the tube, pick it up between thumb and middle finger, hold it to the light and start to mix by gentle inversion. First you see swirling as the liquids start to mix. Then a more viscous portion starts to separate, looking like eggwhite floating in water. The eggwhite contracts into silky fibers that congeal together like whole spaghetti. At that moment the pure DNA can be captured and preserved.
Click here for a video using this process to create a Life Jewel.